Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

February 2nd, 2004

A Sense of Place
By Dave Micus

Querencia is a Spanish term that means, according to historian Kirkpatrick Sale, "the deep sense of well-being that comes from knowing a particular place on Earth; its daily and seasonal patterns, its fruits and scents, its soils and birdsongs." I think that those of us who live in the coastal communities of New England can easily understand the concept of querencia.

There is something about a sea-faring town that precludes the thought of ever leaving it - the smell of the ocean at low tide, the gold on the marsh in the fall, a snow squall over the water in winter. All are familiar seasonal patterns to coastal residents; all re-assure us that we are where we belong.

No one feels this more than those who seek their livelihood from the sea. I live on a street with a public boat ramp at the end that provides easy access to their clamming beds and moored lobster boats, and I see them every day as they commute to and from work. I envy them their commute, at least when it's not winter, maneuvering their over-powered Lunds and Alumicrafts through the channel at dawn, the skiff with a 'bone in her teeth' as the old whalers used to say, referring to the white turbulence formed by the bow cutting through the waves.

Over the course of years I've gotten to know a few of these fishermen. Our paths cross now and again, as when I'm launching my kayak to fish for stripers at the same time they're launching their skiffs. They probably think I'm foolish with my small boat and effete fly-fishing ways, but they don't let it show, and share reports of fish activity.

One of them, Peter, stores his skiff in our yard. He's a former neighbor who has moved farther away from the boat ramp, and keeping his boat in our yard makes it more convenient for him to launch. He reciprocates by giving us lobsters and crabs throughout the season, and this works well for us all (but in his vendetta to rid the ocean of bait stealing crabs, he sometimes gives us so many that we have to drive all over town, giving them to friends so they won't go to waste).

This past year Peter hired both of my sons as sternmen on his lobster boat. Though only 13 and 15, they are both big for their ages and they adapted well to this work of grown men, making my wife and I quite proud. We were also very impressed with the education they received, not only about navigation and boat maintenance, but also economics (supply and demand), biology (lobster mating and migratory behavior), and the law. Each time they went lobstering they returned stinking of bait but with interesting stories about what they found in the pots, the weather, other boats and fishermen. Peter shared with them his three pillars of wisdom: don't smoke; brush your teeth; and don't drink with the wrong crowd. We should all live by these words.

Peter's dad was a lobsterman, and his grandfather probably was, too. Peter's dad is retired now, but I still see him. He frequently drives down to the end of the street, parks at the boat ramp, and gazes at the water. I notice when he's not out on the boat, Peter does the same.

"Just checking to make sure the Atlantic Ocean is still there," is how he explains it.

That is querencia. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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